Barking Cats: Wisdom in Government through Utopia-Colored Sunglasses versus the Known Laws of Human Nature
A 1973 column entitled “Barking Cats” gave us the following version of some great wisdom of the ages:
What would you think of someone who said, “I would like to have a cat provided it barked”? Yet your statement that you favor [government intervention] provided it behaves as you believe desirable is precisely equivalent. The biological laws that specify the characteristics of cats are no more rigid than the political laws that specify the behavior of governmental agencies once they are established. The way the [government agency] now behaves, and the adverse consequences, are not an accident, not a result of some easily corrected human mistake, but a consequence of its constitution in precisely the same way that a meow is related to the constitution of a cat. As [an intelligent being], you recognize that you cannot assign characteristics at will to chemical and biological entities, cannot demand that cats bark or water burn. Why do you suppose the situation is different in the social sciences?
Six years later, when Milton and Rose Friedman published the book Free to Choose, the author of that column provided in a single paragraph a near perfect algorithm for those political laws or, as they then referred to them, the “natural history of government intervention” (bulletized here to accommodate several generations of Americans educated under the thumb of Federal Bureaucracy):
1. A real or fancied evil leads to demands to do something about it.
2. A political coalition forms consisting of sincere, high-minded reformers and equally sincere interested parties.
3. The incompatible objectives of the members of the coalition are glossed over by fine rhetoric about “the public interest”, “fair competition,” and the like.
4. The coalition succeeds in getting Congress to pass a law.
5. The preamble to the law pays lip service to the rhetoric and the body of the law grants power to government officials to “do something”.
6. The high-minded reformers experience a glow of triumph and turn their attention to new causes.
7. The interested parties go to work to make sure that the power is used for their benefit. They generally succeed.
8. Success breeds its problems, which are met by broadening the scope of intervention.
9. Bureaucracy takes its toll so that even the initial special interests no longer benefit.
10. In the end the effects are precisely the opposite of the objectives of the reformers and generally do not even achieve the objectives of the special interests.
11. Yet the activity is so firmly established and so many vested interests are connected with it that repeal of the initial legislation is nearly inconceivable.
12. Instead, new government legislation is called for to cope with the problems produced by the earlier legislation and a new cycle begins.
One of the big lessons here is that we can confidently project that not only the honest rhetoric disseminated during this debate – which we’re not getting much of from today’s left – but also the actual text of the legislation will eventually lead to a system that will not even remotely resemble the intent of the “sincere” reformers. The entrenched bureaucracy will by natural order pervert the system for its own sake with no concern for the fate of the affected American citizen.
(For the record, I do question the gratuitous use of the word “sincere” in item #2…at least in its application to today’s circumstances. But, I digress.)
So, while actually reading the bill would be wise for citizens and legislators alike, an honest reading between the lines of any bill for the potential misuses and perversions of the power granted is what is really needed today.
This is why I continue to curse any MSM anchor/pundit who blurts out “it’s not in the bill!” when sincere, concerned citizens make [historically backed] honest assessments of what the proposed legislation will lead to.
Is it worth betting your future health care against natural history in this way? For that matter, are any of the big initiatives and policies being undertaken by the current administration good bets?
Of course, take that all for what it’s worth coming from an antibureau-ite, antidentite, and general all around racist (according to Jimmy Carter’s special dictionary) like me.
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